Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Fried Balogna (Baloney) Sandwiches

Fried-baloney

Photo by Waxmop, Public Domain via Wikimedia

What could be more working class Youngstown than fried balogna sandwiches? It is the essence of simplicity on a budget. It packs a lot of calories (not necessarily healthy ones) in a compact package. All it takes is a skillet, a little bit of cooking oil, balogna slices, good old American processed cheese slices, white bread, and some mustard. Sure, you can get a lot fancier. You can substitute buns, different condiments, and so forth. I’ve seen recipes with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pepper slices, mayonnaise, pickles, pickle relish–even potato chips. You can add a fried egg, kind of the poor man’s sausage egg sandwich! My favorite sandwich topping is mustard, pickle relish, and dabs of sriracha sauce. But I digress…we didn’t grow up with sriracha sauce! Or you can keep it simple.

A few tips I’ve picked up. Frying the balogna on both sides twice gives a nice crunchy edge. You may want to add some seasoning (your favorite) and/or pepper to bring out the flavor. Slicing the balogna from the edge toward the center helps prevent the “pucker” you see in the picture above so that it fries more evenly. I like the bread toasted which seems a complement to the fried balogna. Good old fashioned yellow mustard seems the most authentic but I’d go with your favorite condiment–or skip it altogether and enjoy that fried taste of the balogna–so much richer than out of the package. You can melt the cheese on a slice for the last 5 seconds–more and you have a mess–or you can just put it on afterwards. Fried balogna sandwiches are the epitome of freedom and simplicity.

It’s funny how we delighted in such simple things. I loved when dad would make fried balogna sandwiches. I suspect mom did too, because it was a break from cooking. First the kitchen smelled heavenly, then the sandwich took you there. I suspect there was a time when you could feed a family of four for a buck–and we loved it.

It was not the stuff of a steady diet. But for a Saturday lunch or Sunday evening light meal–a weekend treat–it was perfect.

I suspect you have lots of memories (hopefully good ones) of fried balogna sandwiches. I’d love to hear them. How did you make them? And do you still?

Thinking about this post has had me eyeing that pack of balogna in the fridge all day…

No Longer a Caged Twitter Bird

birds-24

Alfred Gatty, Public Domain via Reusable Art

I found out the other day that bobonbooks.com, which had been blocked on Twitter for about a month, is no longer blocked. I can post links from this blog page and when people click on links, they no longer get scary warning messages that suggest all sorts of nefarious things could happen if they went to my website (even though this never was an actual problem). I never received an explanation from Twitter as to why I was blocked, what I needed to do to get unblocked, nor that I was no longer being blocked. I simply observed that scheduled posts were now posting to Twitter.

My reaction? I was glad, sobered, and educated.

Glad. One of the main things I do on this blog is post reviews of books, particularly recently published books I’ve received from publishers to review.  Tweeting my reviews to the publisher is one way of alerting them I have a review up (I often also email a link to publishers’ publicists). Publishers also like to re-tweet reviews they think will help promote the book. None of that was possible and the scary messages were wrongly discrediting my website. I’m glad all this has gone away, hopefully for good.

Sobered. I hadn’t imagined something like this could happen. I am careful to observe the Terms of Service on social media and any admin rules on pages where I post. I’d never had something like this happen before. One day, I simply discovered that although I could post tweets, I could no longer post any links, even in shortened form, from my site to Twitter. I discovered that the likely cause was a “false positive” report on my site that was filed at PhishTank, a blacklisting site used by many institutions to block “phishing” sites. These reports are not verified nor are website owners notified. I discovered that two other blacklisting sites subsequently had me on their unsafe lists, and I learned from some friends that my website came up with warnings or were blocked at their work computers. I don’t know why this happened. I do post material related to my religious beliefs. I wonder if that was the reason. Maybe it was just random. Whatever it was, it was a personal encounter with a dark side of the web.

Perhaps the most sobering experience was how long it took to get “unblocked” by Twitter. To the credit of the blacklisting sites, when I asked them to review my site, it took minutes to a day at most for them to change the status of my site to safe. I submitted a ticket to Twitter as well. It took a month for them to finally unblock the site. As I said above, I have no clue why I was blocked or unblocked. I was surprised and glad that I was able to post links to bobonbooks.com. My son had suggested I just give up, which I about had, because, in his words, “there is no upside for them.”

Educated. Here are some things I learned:

  • Technically, because my site is hosted on WordPress.com, “drive-by” attacks that post malware or phishing links cannot happen because of their security protocols. I doubt whether this is foolproof, but if someone hacks WordPress.com, there are potentially millions of us compromised. However, if an individual user is blacklisted, you are on your own.
  • If you host your own website, or it is hosted elsewhere, you do need to take the security of your site seriously. Make sure your software, virus and anti-malware software is up to date and running, and you have a good firewall. There are also companies that provide website and reputation protection. If you do business on your site, some form of this protection could be a good investment.
  • I now use Sucuri SiteCheck to check my site daily. It scans your site for malware and phishing links and also checks nine of the top blacklisting sites. It may not be foolproof, but it is a good line of defense and helped me discover blacklisting sites where I was blacklisted.
  • I revisited my own security practices and added dual authentication to my blog site. Anyone else logging on results in a text to my cell phone. I also clear spam comments, moderate commenting, and block spammers. Visitors to the site never see this.
  • While you can take steps to secure your site, it is still possible for your site to be wrongly blacklisted. Blacklisting sites only check your site if you ask them, and once you are blacklisted somewhere, it spreads to all who use those sites to protect their systems or end users. It can seriously affect your web traffic and your site’s reputation. It can happen to you! I’m not a big fish and it happened to me. I’ve learned it has happened to others.
  • Social media sites like Twitter currently can do what they want. They are not regulated. They have no obligation to offer live support. To have real people available for users with a problem that requires immediate attention may, in my son’s words, “have no upside.” If anything, the death of internet neutrality rules may make it worse. From what I can tell, Twitter can block any links or content it wants. Period. They have the final say. If you don’t like it, there is really no court of appeal as far as I can tell, other than public opinion. I honestly didn’t expect to get back on apart from buying a new web domain name. I’m glad something worked.

If you are a blogger or have a website, I hope this doesn’t happen to you. It can. I didn’t even know this could happen. Now I do. It is sad and disturbing that we spend much of our lives online guarding ourselves from those who might harm or defraud or troll us.  If you see anything weird going on when you visit my site, let me know. You can be sure it is not intentional. I still love all that you can do and find on the internet. But it’s a far cry from when I first downloaded Mosaic and discovered the wonders of the web. I think those of us who still see this as a place for dialogue and discovery will have to fight to keep it that way. I’ve always said this site is about promoting conversations about the good, the beautiful, and the true. Perhaps what can keep us going against all the weirdness is the belief that somehow, it is the good, the true, and the beautiful that will endure.

Review: The Cross and Christian Ministry

the cross and christian ministry

The Cross and Christian MinistryD. A. Carson. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2018 (repackaged edition, originally published 1993).

Summary: In these expositions from 1 Corinthians, Carson sets forth the cruciform character of biblically faithful Christian ministry.

In the 1990’s, D. A. Carson published several collections of expositions. Recently Baker has begun “repackaging” them. Recently I reviewed The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus. The Cross and Christian Ministry is another of these repackaged works that I am glad is receiving a new lease on life. What Carson says about the cruciform character of Christian ministry is just as, if not more, relevant today than when these works were first published twenty-five years ago.

This book is a series of expositions from the book of 1 Corinthians, four on the first four chapters of 1 Corinthians and a final one from chapter 9. Each concludes with questions that may be used for reflection or group discussion. In brief, they cover:

1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5The Cross and Preaching. He begins by showing how the cross divides humanity as foolishness to the perishing and the power of God for those being saved. It is folly that outsmarts the greatest of human wisdom and yet includes many the world would exclude. He concludes about the message of those who preach, that testifies to God’s work, focuses on Christ crucified and relies on the power of the Spirit. He has pointed comments about those who try to manipulate audiences, particularly in youth ministry.

1 Corinthians 2:6-16The Cross and the Holy Spirit. This message notes three contrasts in the passage:

  1. Between those who receive God’s Wisdom and those who do not.
  2. Between the Spirit of God and the spirit of the world.
  3. Between the “natural person and the “spiritual” person.

He concludes by observing that the work of the Holy Spirit is essential for a person truly to understand the cross. We may intellectually grasp the meaning of the cross but nevertheless need the Holy Spirit to illuminate that understanding and overcomes our human resistance to facing our sin and God’s saving work.

1 Corinthians 3, The Cross and Factionalism. Factionalism fundamentally is a sign of Christian immaturity. It fails to realize that leaders are really servants, and will give account for their leadership. Sadly, factionalism both fails to recognize the great work of God, focusing on human beings, and inevitably diminishes the great inheritance we have in Christ as it focuses on only a select aspect of that inheritance. Carson notes that in factionalism, we cut ourselves off from so much that is good and enriching in the rest of the church.

1 Corinthians 4The Cross and Christian Leadership. In this message, Carson explores what it means to be a Christian leader in light of the cross:

  1. It means being entrusted with the “mysteries” of God. Leaders should faithfully fulfill that trust, and others should realize that such leaders are seeking to please God and not stand in judgment of them.
  2. It means living in the light of the cross which meant for Paul following a crucified Lord and embracing suffering.
  3. It means encouraging and enforcing the way of the cross among the people of God. We both help people to grasp the precious significance of the cross, and warn those who presume on the cross and fail to follow Christ in their daily life.

1 Corinthians 9:19-27, The Cross and the World Christian. The term “world Christian” was much used in mission-oriented circles in the 1990’s and might be similar to today’s “missional Christian.” Carson gives a wonderful definition that challenges the contemporary attractions of nativism and tribalism that focuses on either the greatness of one’s country or the pre-eminence of one’s own particular “tribe.”

“The allegiance to Jesus Christ and his kingdom is self-consciously set above all national, cultural, linguistic, and racial allegiances.

Their commitment to the church, Jesus messianic community, is to the church everywhere, wherever the church is truly manifest, and not only to its manifestation on home turf.

They see themselves first and foremost as citizens of the heavenly kingdom and therefore consider all other citizenship a secondary matter.

As a result, they are single-minded and sacrificial when it comes to the paramount mandate to evangelize and make disciples” (p. 133).

Carson emphasizes from the text that such people understand their freedom and their constraints in Christ; they do not stand on their “rights”; they set the salvation of others as their aim and understand that there is really no other way to be a Christian.

This collection of messages, originally given at several conferences, are not exegetical commentaries, but rather seek to make clear for both the original audiences and the reader the meaning of the text and its implications. Carson writes with clarity, devotional warmth, and a perceptive eye to application for the contemporary church. He particularly addresses any person in leadership, making us take a hard look at our own character and practice and vision in light of the cross. I’m struck with how well these messages have worn. While certainly one can spy references that are dated, it seemed to me that these messages if anything may be more timely in our own day, because they center around the timeless truth of the cross.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Expository Exultation

Expository Exultation

Expository Exultation, John Piper. Carol Stream, IL: Crossway Books, 2018.

Summary: Contends that the purpose of preaching is expository exultation; that preaching is integral to worship in the preacher’s work of making clear and exulting over the text of scripture as it reveals the glories of God.

This is one John Piper book that I can unequivocally endorse. While I might differ with him in other matters, I found myself saying “Amen” again and again as I read this book. The reason for this is that he recovers and articulates as well as anyone since Martyn Lloyd Jones and John Stott the glory and high calling of preaching. His central contention is that preaching, properly done is “expository exultation.” What does he mean by this?

“The title Expository Exultation is intended to communicate that this unique form of communication is both a rigorous intellectual clarification of the reality revealed through the words of Scripture and a worshipful embodiment of the value of that reality in the preacher’s exultation over the word he is clarifying. Preachers should think of worship services not as exultation in the glories of God accompanied by a sermon. They should think of musical and liturgical exultation (songs, prayers, readings, confession, ordinances, and more) accompanied and assisted by expository exultation–preaching as worship.”

Piper offers a helpful correction to the mentality that says worship is over when the music ends, where the message is kind of a letdown or a time for the mind to wander.

The remainder of the book is an unpacking of the above statement. He begins with a discussion of how fitting it is for the people of God to gather for corporate worship and then shows how preaching as expository exultation is integral to our corporate worship and rooted in the persons of the Trinity. The following two parts of this work focus on both the supernatural and natural aspects of expository exultation–the work of the Holy Spirit and the proper use of our skills to communicate with clarity and logic the reality of God and his work revealed in the biblical text.

The next part of this work was perhaps one of the most illuminating parts for me that explained why much biblical exposition falls flat. We may say what the text says, even individual words, and what it means, and how it bears on our lives. But Piper contends that we often do not clearly communicate the reality to which the text bears witness as we direct attention to the text so that people discover that reality for themselves, not by hearing us, but by seeing that this is what the text says. Good preaching shows how reality shines through the text.

He then turns in the next part to the central realities to which he believes the biblical text bears witness. They are the glory of God, Christ crucified, and the obedience of faith. Piper would contend that all three run through scripture and ought run through our exposition of it. Then in the following part, he shows how these three central realities run through even the Old Testament. He concludes by reminding the preacher of the high calling and indispensable importance of expository exultation in the life of the church. And he speaks personally to aspiring preachers:

“But he who called you is faithful. He will do it. I testify from forty years in the ministry of the word, through the best and the worst of times, God loves to help the preacher who is desperate to make the word plain for the holy happiness of his people, by the blood of Christ, for the glory of God. He will help you.”

So much preaching seems disconnected from the glories of God and the work of Christ we sing and celebrate in music, liturgy and ordinance or sacrament. Too often it seems merely to be an inspirational message to help us engage another week, or a series of marching orders. Piper articulates a vision of preaching consistent with the rest of worship–that God is the glorious hero of the scriptures we preach, that the decisive act in the story was the life, death and resurrection of the Son, and we are invited through the regeneration and empowering of his Spirit to participate through the obedience of faith in this great venture of God in his world. Those are the realities we make clear from the text of scripture and over which we exult and lead God’s people in joyous exultation both in corporate worship and lives of worship. No wonder Piper has been at it forty years and continues to preach and write with such passion!

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: A Subversive Gospel

A Subversive Gospel

A Subversive Gospel (Studies in Theology and the Arts), Michael Mears Bruner. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Academic, 2017.

Summary: Proposes that the grotesque and violent character of Flannery O’Connor’s work reflects her understanding of the subversive character of the gospel and the challenge of awakening people in the Christ-haunted South to the beauty, goodness, and truth of the gospel.

A number of years ago our book group decided to read the collected works of Flannery O’Connor. It was a challenge. The stories involved everything from a stolen wooden leg to a rape to the murder of a whole family. The word “grotesque” is often used to describe her work. The question arises, why did this single Catholic woman, who lived on her parents’ farm in Milledgeville, Georgia, suffering and ultimately dying of lupus, write such strange stories?

Michael Mears Bruner explores this question in his contribution to the Studies in Theology and the Arts series.  His discussion focuses particularly around the novel The Violent Bear It Away (an allusion to Matthew 11:12 in the Douay-Rheims version) and a statement about the main character, Francis Tarwater, about whom O’Connor says:

“His black pupils, glassy and still, reflected depth on depth his own stricken image of himself, trudging into the distance in the bleeding stinking mad shadow of Jesus, until at last he received his reward, a broken fish, a multiplied loaf.”

Bruner’s thesis is “that through the medium of her art, Flannery O’Connor showed her readers how following Christ is a commitment to follow in his shadow, which becomes a subversive act aesthetically (“bleeding”), ethically (“stinking”), and intellectually (“mad”).” Elsewhere, and repeatedly in the text, he refers to the “terrible beauty, violent goodness and foolish truth of God.” Bruner helps us realize that O’Connor writes in a Southern context that has been effectively innoculated against the Christian gospel–grown so comfortable with Christian language that it is impervious to the radical and startling claims of the Christian faith–the beauty of God’s love revealed in suffering, the goodness and righteousness of God revealed in the violent death of Jesus, and the foolishness of a message wiser than human wisdom. The grotesque and the violent in O’Connor’s stories startle us awake to realities to which we’ve grown too accustomed.

Bruner begins with tracing the development of O’Connor’s writing from the earlier to the later works which reflect a theological turn that he attributes to the influence of Baron von Hugel’s thought. He then looks at the moral and theological vision that shapes her work as a Roman Catholic in the fundamentalist south. He connects her dramatic vision with her subversive aesthetic and then goes deeper into how her work subverts the transcendentals of beauty, goodness, and truth. Finally he applies this approach to her last novel, The Violent Bear It Away. A brief conclusion is followed by a liturgical celebration of the Eucharist using O’Connor’s work.

The body of this work consists of dense literary analysis, and it is helpful to have recently read and have a copy of O’Connor’s work handy. In the process, Bruner joins O’Connor in challenging the nostrums and platitudes of Christian faith with the subversive character of O’Connor’s work. One example is this passage:

“Yet this hardly settles the matter regarding the notion that God might indeed be terrible, and so what do we do with this component of O’Connor’s fierce theology? She refuses to placate us with religious euphemisms and spiritual jargon, preferring instead to ‘shout’ and ‘draw large and startling figures” in our faces” (p. 154).

O’Connor wrote to disturb the comfortable, and Bruner demonstrates just how subversive she was in her story writing. He also helps us understand the theological turn in her writing and the influences other critics have noted briefly or not at all. He helps those of us disenchanted with enculturated, saccharine versions of Christianity who ask, “is that all there is?” to see that O’Conner writes out a more bracing vision, one we might even need to brace ourselves against. She defies all our conventions of beauty, goodness, and truth, Bruner argues, because that is what the gospel does. She bids us ask the dangerous question of whether this is in fact the gospel we’ve believed–as dangerous a question as a Flannery O’Connor story.

 

Review: Cannery Row

Cannery Row

Cannery RowJohn Steinbeck. New York: Penguin Books, 1992 (originally published 1945).

Summary: Steinbeck’s Depression-era narrative of the residents of Cannery Row, eking out an existence on society’s margins, and forming an unlikely community in the process.

“Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream.”

Steinbeck had me at this first sentence and drew me in with his ensemble of oddball characters–Henri the painter who has been building a boat for seven years; Lee Chong, the grocer whose emporium has a little bit of everything from every when; Doc, the marine biologist who collects marine life for research, and functions as a kind of doctor for the bodies and souls on the Row; Dora, the madam of the Bear Flag Restaurant where sailors and others could get far more than a sandwich from her girls; Mr. and Mrs. Malloy, who turn an abandoned boiler into their home; and Mack and the boys of the Palace Flophouse, whose exploits drive the narrative of this book.

For the most part, this is a group scraping by during the Depression. Mack and his boys might be described as “discouraged workers” taking odd jobs or even working a stretch at the canneries–just enough to get by and buy some cheap whiskey (“Old Tennis Shoe”) from Lee Chong. Eventually the boys get the idea to throw a big party for Doc, a sad man who listens to music as he reads at night unless he has a lady friend in, but who cares for delinquents, girls from Dora’s who get “in trouble,” and anyone else in need. The party ends up a comedy of errors. There is an elaborate tale of borrowing Lee Chong’s decrepit Model T, nearly getting run off an old captain’s property until they heal the captain’s dog, drink up his whiskey with him, and clean out a pond full of frogs they plan to sell to Doc to raise money for the party. The night of the party, Doc is recovering from finding a young girl’s body and doesn’t arrive home until the morning, to find his lab trashed, his record albums broken, and the remains of the party everywhere.

A pall settles over Mack, and the boys, indeed over the whole Row. Doc lashes out and busts up Mack’s mouth. But the boys are undeterred, and plan another party, at Doc’s place, of course, and all the residents get involved. How it all ends, I will leave for you to discover.

Behind the madcap exploits of Mack and the boys and their interactions with other denizens of Cannery Row, one gets a sense of what it was like for those on the margins to eke out a life during the Depression, how hard and sometimes tragic it was. This strange set of characters somehow help each other survive. Doc, the best off and most educated, shares the hopelessness of this group, finding a beautiful young girl dead in the water and finding himself unable to help a young delinquent he’d befriended. Like the others, he anodizes the pain in alcohol when books, music, young women, and his marine expeditions are not enough.

In the end, what seems to get them all through are the relationships, the bonds they form with each other in this crazy assemblage of humanity. There is no thought here of the possibility of a deeper Relationship or a Higher Purpose that can make sense of life. Nevertheless, this group of people faced with the challenges of their lives,  decides they must celebrate a birthday, and in doing so that there is some meaning, some worth to their existence, because you never care about or celebrate something without worth.

Growing Up In Working Class Youngstown — Howard W. Jones

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Statue of Howard W. Jones, photo by Robert C. Trube, all rights reserved

I was able to attend Youngstown State because of Howard W. Jones. He was the principal reason that there was a Youngstown State as the first and longest sitting president from 1935 to 1966. He retired when Youngstown University was on the verge of becoming a state university, which happened in 1967. To protect the university’s private endowment, he became the president of the Youngstown Education Foundation (now the YSU Foundation). He served in this position until 1975. In 1972, I received a scholarship from the Youngstown Education Foundation (full the first year, and partial the remaining years). That scholarship, along with part-time jobs and low tuition, allowed me to graduate in 1976 without any loan debts.

Who was this man whose leadership was so crucial to the growth of Youngstown College, later Youngstown University? Jones was born September 25, 1895 in Palmyra, Ohio. He served in the Navy during World War I and completed his Bachelor’s degree at Hiram College in 1920. He later completed a Masters degree at Western Reserve University in 1938, and was granted an honorary degree in Pedagogy in 1943 from Westminster College. He worked as an athletic trainer, coach, and school principal before returning to Hiram to serve as assistant to the president at Hiram.

He came to Youngstown in 1931 at the invitation of the YMCA. You may recall that Youngstown College got its start when the YMCA starting offering college level courses at the Youngstown Association School. In 1921, it became the Youngstown Institute of Technology, then in 1928, Youngstown College. In 1931, Jones was the associate general secretary of the YMCA and was appointed to direct Youngstown College, essentially to serve as president. He presided over construction of a new 35 room classroom building that would one day bear his name, at the corner of Wick and Lincoln Avenues, built at a cost of $350,000 and dedicated October 1, 1931. Enrollment at the time was 200. He formally was named President in 1935. He brought the Dana School of Music from Warren to become part of Youngstown College. Over the next 20 years he led the expansion of the college into a university, the growth reflected in the name change to Youngstown University in 1955. By the time he retired in 1966, the university had grown to 12,000 students with new science and engineering buildings under construction. He was succeeded by Albert Pugsley, who was YSU’s president when I enrolled in the fall of 1972.

Howard W. Jones died February 25, 1982 at the age of 86. He oversaw a transformation from a small, mostly night school to an urban state university. His work at the Youngstown Education Foundation made it possible for many of my generation to be the first to obtain college degrees. The campus I encountered in 1972, much less developed than today, was fundamentally a result of his leadership. I wish I had met him. It occurs to me that I have a good deal for which I could thank him.

Review: Preaching by the Book

Preaching by the Book

Preaching by the Book (Hobbs College Library), R. Scott Pace, (Heath A. Thomas editor). Nashville: B & H Academic, 2018.

Summary: A step by step guide to preparing and giving messages rooted in biblical texts in a slim volume.

There are numerous guides to preaching, most which are both inspiring and perhaps a little daunting. What caught my attention is the straightforward character of this little book. I could see a person, perhaps faced with his or her first sermon, working through this book in preparing to preach.

First of all, the author outlines his theology of preaching that affirms that the purpose of preaching is that the Word of God, expounded faithfully by ministers of God trusting in the work of the Spirit of God results in the people of God hearing, worshiping, and obeying God. Critical in this process is that sermons arise from and be based in the text of scripture. The remainder of the book unpacks a process by which this is done, which is outlined in seven steps:

1.  Begin with prayer.

  • Prepare your heart.
  • Pray for help.

2.  Read the passage.

  • Read it casually.
  • Read it carefully.

3.  Discover the point.

  • Summarize the main idea
  • Simplify the main idea.

4.  Study the parts.

  • Study the supporting concepts.
  • Study the significant words.

5.  Identify the precepts.

  • Discern the theological truths.
  • Discern the doctrinal truths.
  • Discern the spiritual truths.

6.  Apply the principles.

  • Evaluate our personal condition.
  • Formulate our practical response.

7.  Develop our plan.

  • Construct our sermon outline.
  • Craft our sermon points.

Chapters 2 through 4 elaborate these seven steps. Then Chapters 5 through 7 help with fleshing out the sermon outline into a message that may be preached. It begins with Introductions and emphasizes brevity and clarity that whets people’s appetites, as well as providing a varying diet. Chapter 6 on Illustrations proposes the various kinds of illustrations that might be used and pitfalls to avoid including the overuse of illustrations, and using yourself or your family excessively in illustrations. Chapter 7, reflecting the Baptist origins of this work, discusses Invitations. This is often neglected in other traditions, where a passage is taught, but no response to it is invited in the context of the service.

One subject that I would have liked to seen addressed in this section would be the question of whether one ought write out sermons, preach from notes, or work from memory. It seems that it would be helpful for many to talk about how not to be tied to a text or written notes and yet avoid the wandering and rabbit trails that may accompany extemporaneous preaching. Perhaps the author assumed that preachers figure out what works best for them over time, which seems to be the case, but this is little help for the person starting out.

That aside, what Pace offers in a handy format is a guide that really can serve as a guide throughout the process of preparing a message from a biblical text. He distills a life of preaching wisdom into a concise, slim volume easily taken along with one’s Bible, study tools, and laptop into the study, or coffee shop. Much like a travel guide organized with the traveler in mind, this little guide can be pulled out throughout one’s preparation to preach to inspire and to give sound direction.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Immigration and the Way of the Heart

Ellis Island Immigrants, Public Domain

Ellis Island Immigrants, Public Domain via Wikimedia

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. –Ephesians 2:11-13, NIV

“This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’” Zechariah 7:9-10

When you saw the word “immigration,” did your blood pressure go up? This is one of those issues it is not polite to discuss during social occasions at the risk of tempers flaring. In what follows I don’t want to get into policy or current controversies, and I hope you won’t try to debate them here. Likewise, I should warn that this is a bit of “inside baseball” primarily written for those who share my Christian commitments. I hope others will read to see how at least one Christian might think through such things.

The impetus for this post has been reflection over the last couple weeks on a sermon preached by one of our pastors on Zechariah 7, which includes the second biblical quote above. It made me think particularly about what our heart attitudes are toward the immigrant, and others on the margins of our society. These often are most vulnerable to oppression. They can be exploited, abused, feared, hated, excluded. Instead God commands justice, mercy, and compassion.

My thoughts went to the first passage and others like it, that give a very simple reason why. If in no other way, spiritually, we were once in the same place–strangers and aliens, fatherless, and hopeless; and through the cross of Christ, we have been adopted as God’s children, welcomed into God’s family, and included in God’s people–citizens of the kingdom rather than aliens.

It is hard for me to fathom as I reflect on God’s unfathomable love how our hearts can be gladdened and warmed and filled with joy because of the reality of God’s extravagant welcome; and hardened toward the immigrant and the refugee. It seems to me akin to being extravagantly forgiven and unwilling to forgive. Someone has observed about Jesus teaching about forgiveness that we need to choose which universe we will live in–a forgiveness universe or a judgment universe. I would suggest that likewise, we cannot live in a universe of extravagant welcome and simultaneously a universe of fear, resentment, hate, and exclusion. Choosing the latter in each case robs us of the joy and freedom of being God’s forgiven and included children.

None of this is to say what our immigration policies should be. Clearly they need to change, which is perhaps the only thing both political parties agree upon. What I want to raise is what orientation of the heart, what habits of the heart shape how we approach these discussions. Do we begin with fear or suspicion or even hatred of the other? Or do we begin with compassion, with welcome, and with justice. Many refugees are actually desperate. A number are actually fellow believers. In many cases they would face prison or death in returning to their country. Most people don’t leave home without good reason.

Many would say there are good reasons to be fearful or suspicious because some immigrants, documented or not, have committed crimes in our country.  Sure, but if we were to exclude every class of people in which some member has committed a crime, who of us would be left? Certainly prudence is called for by those who guard our borders. But this doesn’t need to conflict with a generous, welcoming spirit on the part of our people. The real question is what will be our fundamental posture, at least among those of us who say we follow Christ, toward the immigrant and the refugee? Will it be fear and suspicion, or will it be one of generous welcome that flows from how Christ has welcomed us? Might we experience in new ways the joy of welcoming Jesus in welcoming these people, the Jesus who began his earthly life as a refugee, along with Joseph and Mary?

Review: The Professor and the Madman

The Professor and the Madman

The Professor and the MadmanSimon Winchester. New York: Harper Perennial, 1999, 2005.

Summary: The story of the making of the Oxford English Dictionary; James Murray, the editor who gave critical leadership to the project; and Dr. W. C. Minor, the paranoid schizophrenic, whose contribution was vital to the project.

W. C. Minor was the scion of a wealthy family. He showed promise as a medical surgeon, served in Union hospitals until he had an experience during the Battle of the Wilderness that changed his life. Forced to brand an Irish deserter, he was never after the same and eventually placed on a pension. He went to London, seeking rest, and to restore his mind but his fears came with him. He lived in a poorer section, in Lambeth and one night chased down a brewery worker, shot and killed him. Found innocent by reason of insanity, he was confined to Broadmoor, an estate-like “lunatic asylum” that provided humane care, though not treatment. Because of his resources, he acquired two rooms in one of the nicer parts of the facility, acquired an extensive library that filled one room while he painted in the other. But he lacked any real purpose, and his demons pursued him.

In 1857, delegates of the Philological Society decided to move forward with a dictionary of the English language. Samuel Johnson’s effort of the last century was the only real resource at the time. Two members, Herbert Coleridge and Frederick Furnivall led the effort but it lagged for over twenty years until James Murray was finally put in charge. Murray published a kind of want ad seeking dictionary volunteers who would scour literature for words and quotations using those words to contribute to his dictionary. One of the ads found its way into a book acquired by Dr. Minor. It would give his life a purpose for another couple decades and lead to a most unusual relationship between the two men. Minor, often at request, would scour his books and come up with quotations for words whose definitions Murray and his team were preparing for publication. He sent thousands upon thousands of quotations, meticulously recorded–a lexicographers dream. Eventually Murray would go to meet Minor, and they would walk the grounds of Broadmoor, looking as if they were two “Father Christmases” in their white beards, talking words, keeping for a time, the fears and demons at bay.

Simon Winchester narrates the story of the seventy year process involved in the publication of the full Oxford English Dictionary (OED) as well as the unusual life of one of its most significant contributors. In an understated way, this work also serves as a tribute to Murray, whose leadership brought the work near to completion by the time of his death. One of the most telling things is the dignity with which he treats Minor throughout their relationship. In the case of Minor, not unlike John Nash in A Beautiful Mind, the line between genius and madness is a tenuous one. Both Minor and Nash struggled with forms of schizophrenia before any of the modern drug therapies were developed to deal with this illness. Winchester speculates on whether the work on the dictionary served as a kind of therapy, and whether Minor would have made such a signal contribution otherwise.

Winchester gives us a fascinating story, well-told, of a most unlikely friendship, and scholarly partnership. Murray wrote at one point of Minor:

“So enormous have been Dr. Minor’s contributions during the past 17 or 18 years, that we could easily illustrate the last four centuries from his quotes alone.”

This story also reminds us that the OED is the work of thousands of volunteers as well as a team of lexicographers, led for many years by James Murray. It continues to be the dictionary without peer when it comes to the English language. Little did I know that a madman played such an important role.